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Past Reunions

Calgary's Holy Cross Hospital School of Nursing - Class of 1953
Published on Oct 21, 2013
60th reunion of Calgary's Holy Cross Hospital school of nursing's Class of 1953. Held on Sept 29, 2013 in Calgary, AB.
Video complements of Pat Jeffery (Class of 1978)

100 years of Holy Cross Hospital Nursing History
Sr. Letourneau 2007

Video complements of Betty Saver Alumnae Association of the Holy Cross School of Nursing.
E-mail   BA Saver Betty Saver (Fitzpatrick '66 "FITZ")

OCCUPATIONS - Glamor in uniform? -
not on your life By Alice Bean (Pearse 1943)    Special to the Calgary Herald, 1977

(The Holy Cross School of Nursing is holding a reunion this weekend to mark 70 years of educating nurses. One of the 1,000 alumni expected in Calgary from all parts of Canada, the United Sates, Bermuda, Norway and Botswana is Alice Pearse Bean, who now lives in the state of Washington. In this article, Mrs. Bean describes what things were like at Holy Cross while she was a student there.)

Ho hum, another reunion.

Just one more assemblage of carefully coiffed ladies, peering through bifocals at name tags affixed to mature bosoms.

Not quite. This group is inclined to have a fraction more steel in their spines, as well as more fallen arches than most. Both conditions result from having served three years at hard labour.

A benign batch of ex-cons?

Hardly. This get-together is the Holy Cross Hospital nurses' reunion.

In the era which concerns me, 30- some years ago, merely to survive three years of nurses' training was no small feat. The fact that it was not only extremely taxing physically, but was equally taxing emotionally, accounts for the steely spines. Beware you do not underestimate these charming ladies, for beneath each name tag there beats the heart of a tiger.

Menial Tasks

When they graduated, hospital costs were a fraction of todays. Small wonder: each six months a fresh supply of starry-eyed young ladies arrived to perform the menial repetitive tasks of healing, for no pay at all. Their sweat was quite literally the lubricant that made the wheels of hospitalization go around.

It's difficult to isolate exactly what prompted this commitment. It could have been love of mankind, desire for knowledge, hope of a remunerative career, the fascination of a uniform - or husband-hunting. (However, any girl with ideas of snagging an intern was bound to be disillusioned when she discovered her position in the medical scheme of things. She was the bottom rung of the professional ladder, somewhere between the orderlies and the X-ray machines. Besides, fraternization was forbidden on pain of expulsion. Of course it happened anyway, but one needed truly extraordinary equipment in both looks and personality to bring that off).

The lure that brought a majority of these lambs into the medical fold was purely economic. Career opportunities for women were limited to teacher, secretary or nurse, and tuition for the later was minimal.

As for the glamor of a uniform, in my day (the early 1940's) there wasn't any.

Orthopedic oxfords

According to the regulations, we arrived equipped with six slips made of cotton sheeting. No one was going to accuse us of having bodies underneath our starchy exteriors. The uniform itself was no Schaparelli either, being a long-sleeved shapeless garment reaching from chin to mid-calf. No male patient in his right mind was likely to suffer cardiac acceleration due to a glimpse of his nurses' popliteal region (the back of the knees). With hair no longer than collar length, no make-up or jewelry except for a watch, and white cotton or rayon stockings with orthopedic oxfords, we were not chic by any standards.

There wasn't a lot we could do about our appearance, but Lord knows we tried. Everyone applied a hint of lipstick now and then, and we regularly cinched our belts a notch, thereby imparting a trace of shape to the silhouette. Just as often we were ordered to wash off the lipstick, and replace the slack at our middles.

Then there was the cap - ah, that will always be in a class by itself. It has been referred to in my family as a "badge of servitude." Perhaps, but whether a frilly doily, fluted pillbox or a winged creation like ours, there was nothing to equal to the elation when, after a six-week probationary period, it was finally attached, however precariously, to one's head. No candlelight ceremony was involved, just a summons to the superintendent's office - which in itself was enough to make even the shoelaces wilt.

So we had our caps, with the admonition to go forth and deserve them. Superficially, at least, we looked like the rest of the staff, so ready or not we were thrust onto floor duty. Instead of practising on a medical dummy or each other, we were suddenly confronted with real patients, suffering the spectrum of human ills until now only glimpsed in our textbooks. It was a shattering experience which had to be faced: hiding in the linen closet or behind a door becomes obvious, eventually.

For rapid escalation of the medical learning process, nothing approached night duty. Five weeks of a seven-to-seven shift, with no frills like a night off, transformed us from green kids to seasoned practitioners. With a senior and a beginner on each ward it was possible, in theory, anyways, if no emergency arose, for each to have a break of an hour or two. Exhaustion made it easier to nap two to a narrow cot, with your shoes on. Beside the esthetically undesirable side-effects of several pairs of sweaty shoes removed in close quarters, there was the very real possibility of not getting swollen feet back into them. Insomnia was never a problem again for me.

In addition to the adjustment necessary in trying to sleep by day, while ones' roommate came and went, there was the heavy study and class schedule which averaged three hours a day. It's not easy to rise puffy-eyed after a meagre rest and display any interest whatever in a class of medical ethics or dietetics. Even so, we were required to be prepared. Thirty years later the five symptoms of infection are available for instant reply - heat, redness, pain, swelling and loss of function.

Bright side

We were not exposed to the trauma of surgery until our second or third year. Then the first day was like it seemed endless as, wide-eyed and pallid behind the mask, the newcomer strove to be invisible. If we as a group have a certain distain for hell's furies, it's because the temperature and tension of surgery have conditioned us.

Was there no bright side to this training period for the career we sought? One half-day off a week, with curfew at 10 p.m. (11:30 p.m. on Saturdays) did not leave much opportunity for frivolity. Fortunately movies were inexpensive, as were streetcar fares, even the one that galloped across the prairie to Bowness Park. At the dime store, a fish and chips dinner cost 35 cents.

After completing a tour of duty in each department - dressing room, pediatrics, surgery, nursery (poor feet, all those babies to be carried singly to their mothers and retrieved every three hours) - the term was finally served. One last summons to the superintendent's office, and we emerged with the tangible evidence of success - black bands on our caps. That may set a record for the highest price ever paid for 16 inches of black velvet ribbon.

$5 per month

Theoretically, we'd been earning five dollars a month for the last half of our training, though breakage of syringes, thermometers and medicine glasses usually made this figure unattainable. Now we were ready to go forth and "special," for five dollars a 12-hour shift (what affluence, what riches) and, finally, enter into the graduates' dining room.

To use a purely monetary yardstick in judging the worth of those three years would not be practical, since I have known no one who became independently wealthy because of it. The value as a mother I'm not sure of, since my daughter feels it was no help at all. True, my children never got ringworm from the cat - but they could have become compulsive hand washers.

There are less tangible rewards, however. As a preparation for the inevitable crises of later life, its value can not be overestimated.

If you look at it from your bed of pain through a haze of nausea or whatever to observe that your nurse is over 40, do not despair. Be glad if her shape is a mite lumpy. Rejoice if there is a tendency to be slightly splayed of foot - I would.

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